SCIO briefing on upholding dynamic zero-COVID policy to prevent and control COVID-19
Beijing | 10 a.m. April 29, 2022

The State Council Information Office (SCIO) held a press conference in Beijing on Friday about upholding the dynamic zero-COVID policy to prevent and control COVID-19.

Speakers

Li Bin, vice minister of the National Health Commission

Lei Zhenglong, a person in charge of the Bureau of Disease Prevention and Control of the National Health Commission

Liang Wannian, head of the Expert Group of the Epidemic Response and Disposal Leading Group of the National Health Commission

Chairperson

Shou Xiaoli, deputy director general of the Press Bureau of the State Council Information Office (SCIO) and spokesperson of the SCIO

Read in Chinese

Speakers:

Li Bin, vice minister of the National Health Commission (NHC)

Lei Zhenglong, deputy head of the disease control and prevention division of the NHC

Liang Wannian, head of the Expert Group of the Epidemic Response and Disposal Leading Group of the NHC

Chairperson:

Shou Xiaoli, deputy director general of the Press Bureau of the State Council Information Office (SCIO) and SCIO spokesperson

Date:

April 29, 2022


Shou Xiaoli:

Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. Welcome to this press conference held by the State Council Informational Office (SCIO). Today's press conference is about upholding the dynamic zero-COVID policy to prevent and control the pandemic. Today, we are joined by Mr. Li Bin, vice minister of the National Health Commission (NHC); Mr. Lei Zhenglong, deputy head of the disease control and prevention division of the NHC; and Mr. Liang Wannian, head of the Expert Group of the Epidemic Response and Disposal Leading Group of the NHC. They will brief you on relevant information and then take your questions.

Now, I'll give the floor to Mr. Li Bin.

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Li Bin:

Friends from the media, good morning. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core has always put protecting the people and human life above everything else. By bearing in mind the big picture, taking science-based actions, and following objective laws, the CPC Central Committee has consistently adhered to the overall strategy of "preventing inbound cases and domestic resurgence" and carrying out the general policy of dynamic zero-COVID. Our practices on pandemic prevention and control over the past two years and more have proven that the dynamic zero-COVID approach, namely controlling and treating every confirmed case once detected, protected the health and safety of the people to the greatest extent possible and minimized the pandemic's impact on the national economic and social development. This is a correct approach with effective results and the best means to secure victory in China's anti-pandemic fight.

Since the end of February this year, given the spread of highly contagious and stealthy Omicron sub-variant, China has seen frequent flare-ups of COVID-19 cases in multiple places, with a large swathe of areas affected. Pandemic prevention and control efforts have faced the most daunting challenge since the pandemic broke out in Wuhan. In response, we have been unswervingly carrying out the dynamic zero-COVID policy. We have immediately coordinated resources concerning nucleic acid tests, epidemiological investigation, case transfer, quarantine, and treatment and worked to contain the spread of the pandemic to the greatest extent possible. Cluster infections in Jilin province and many other places have been effectively contained, and the dynamic zero-COVID approach has achieved initial success in Shanghai. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in China has seen a fluctuating downward trend.

We are facing a pandemic of a scale unseen in a century. The baseline level of COVID-19 cases worldwide is still very high, and new COVID variants continue to develop. We are still trying to understand the coronavirus and the pandemic, and the risks and threats posed by COVID-19 still exist. China is a highly populous country with considerable regional differences and inadequate medical resources. Relaxing prevention and control measures will create surging COVID-19 infections in a short period of time, which can soon lead to a significant number of severe and death cases. This will put an overwhelming strain on our medical resources and pose a severe threat to the life and health of the vulnerable group, such as patients with underlying medical conditions, senior citizens, children, and pregnant women. The stable development of China's economy and society will also be severely affected.

Since the pandemic broke out, China was one of the first countries to successfully contain the spread of COVID-19, resume work and production, and realize positive economic growth among major economies worldwide. A stable epidemic situation has offered China the most favorable environment to secure its world-leading economic growth and pandemic prevention position. Ensuring a coordinated national response and carrying out localized and stringent anti-pandemic measures is the most cost-efficient way. This makes sure that people in most regions in China can enjoy everyday life and work.

From the anti-pandemic fight in Wuhan and the nationwide routine COVID-19 control to the targeted and whole-process prevention and control of Delta and Omicron variants, China has always been upholding the general policy of dynamic zero-COVID approach and controlling and treating every confirmed case once detected. Our practices have proven that the dynamic zero-COVID approach is the best choice currently to coordinate pandemic prevention and control with social and economic development. This approach is a bottom line that China must safeguard for pandemic prevention and control.

The dynamic zero-COVID policy does not indicate absolute "zero infection." Facing the challenges posed by COVID-19 variants such as Omicron, we cannot eliminate domestic resurgence. However, China has summarized a set of effective prevention and control measures from our practices. We optimize these measures according to the emerging coronavirus variants and new pandemic conditions. We will firmly achieve unity in thinking and action to carry out anti-pandemic measures further, consolidate preventive efforts and enhance our implementation capacity. We will also ensure that local authorities, administrative bodies, employers, and individuals have taken their respective responsibilities in pandemic prevention and control. When domestic resurgence happens, we can confidently take swift actions and precise and comprehensive measures to clear all COVID-19 cases in the shortest period of time and realize the most effective containment with the most negligible costs.

That is all the essential information I have for you. Now my colleagues and I are ready to take questions. Thank you. 

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Shou Xiaoli:

Thank you, Mr. Li Bin. Now the floor is open. Please identify your media outlet before raising your questions. 

CGTN:

Some people think that China is a large country with different situations in different places. Thus the dynamic zero-COVID policy should be flexible and adjusted to reflect local conditions. I wonder what your take on that is? Also, is it possible to co-exist with the coronavirus in some places and adopt the dynamic zero-COVID policy in other areas? Thank you. 

Li Bin:

Thank you for your questions. This has drawn the attention of both the press and the general public. COVID-19 prevention and control is an all-out war, and therefore we need to think of the big picture and ensure a coordinated national response. Only when the pandemic is brought under control can we safeguard people's life and health and create favorable conditions for people's everyday life and work. Only when every city in China sticks to a dynamic zero-COVID policy and contains its local outbreak can the entire country win the fight against the pandemic. If certain areas do not resolutely uphold the dynamic zero-COVID policy, while trying to make an exception, the virus could spread and rapidly cause an outbreak. These places could even become an transmitter and amplifier of the outbreak, leading to spillover to other cities and regions, causing heavy loss of people's life and property, and severely affecting social and economic development. 

But under the general dynamic zero-COVID policy, we encourage local areas to explore good experiences and measures according to their particular situations in order to be more scientific and precise in COVID prevention and control and achieve maximum results with minimum costs. Thank you. 

Beijing Youth Daily:

Some people argue that though Omicron spreads quickly, many of the infected show mild or no symptoms, and thus China could choose to "lie flat" when responding to COVID. I wonder what your take on this is? Thank you. 

Li Bin:

This argument has also drawn the attention of many people. I'll ask Mr. Liang Wannian to take it. 

Liang Wannian:

Thank you. From a global perspective, countries choose their COVID prevention and control strategies and measures based on their prevention and control principle. China's principle has always been putting people first and putting life first. In other words, it is people-centered and health-centered. Under this principle, we adopted the general dynamic zero-COVID policy and have continuously optimized and improved our measures according to the changes in the pandemic. Through our efforts, we managed to protect our people from the harm brought by so-called herd immunity and natural immunity, protect the health and life of the overwhelming majority of our people, and protect the everyday life, work, and economic development of the largest areas of China. 

Some countries have two kinds of immunity. On is natural herd immunity, which, means that people get infected naturally by COVID-19, and then a large percentage of the population gets infected. The other is vaccination-induced immunity. China achieves its immunity through vaccination and build a safety net. Currently, more than 3.3 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered on the Chinese mainland, covering 90% of its population. However, disparities remain. In particular, the gaps in vaccination rates in different ages and regions still exist. If we work harder to raise the vaccination rate for vulnerable groups like the elderly and children, we can set up proactive immunity barriers. Compared with uncontrollable passive immunity, we prefer proactive immunity.

As a country with a large population, China faces imbalanced development among regions, shortages of medical resources, and inequality in resource distribution. As I have mentioned earlier, the vaccination rates for the elderly and the children are not high enough generally. In the face of repeated outbreaks, if we choose the so-called policy of coexisting with the virus, medical resources would be very likely to be overwhelmed, thus threatening the health of patients with background diseases, elderly people, children, and the pregnant. Meanwhile, that would deal a heavy blow to economic and social development. Under such circumstances, we must stick to the general principle of dynamic zero-COVID. Indeed, we must improve and optimize prevention and control measures during the time window. If we step up efforts in vaccination and accelerate R&D of medicines and vaccines, I think we can seize the chance. We will defeat the virus if we have a high vaccination coverage, especially for those older people and other vulnerable groups, all localities are well equipped with medical resources, quarantine beds, effective medicines applicable in a large scale, material supplies, and emergency mechanisms, the virus becomes milder without worse or new variations and an acceptable death rate, and we make use of the time saved by the dynamic zero-COVID policy.

Thank you.

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Bloomberg:

What is the biggest lesson you've learned from the mistakes that were made in Shanghai in containing the outbreak? And separately on vaccination, why doesn't China compel elderly people to get vaccinated like you have for students and other population groups? What is an acceptable vaccination rate for those over 80 that China would be comfortable opening up under? Thank you.

Li Bin:

Thank you for your two questions. We invite Mr. Lei to answer the question about the vaccination of the elderly and Mr. Liang to answer the question about what lessons Beijing should draw in epidemic prevention and control.

Lei Zhenglong:

Thank you for your question. In accordance with the arrangements of State Council's inter-agency task force, the NHC has continued to guide local governments to push forward with vaccination in a proactive and well-considered way. As of April 28, 3.340711 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered across the Chinese mainland. A total of 1.284935 billion people had been vaccinated, and 1.249688 billion had been fully vaccinated, accounting for 91.14% and 88.64% of the total population, respectively. A total of 750.189 million people had got a booster shot, among whom 29.967 million had got sequential booster jabs. About 227.088 million people aged 60 and above had been vaccinated, and 215.155 million had been fully vaccinated, registering 86.01% and 81.49% of the age group, respectively. A total of 160.425 million people in the group had got a booster shot.

So far, the overall work of vaccination has been going smoothly. We are taking orderly steps to administer booster shots, and the vaccination coverage rate of senior citizens has been gradually increasing. Recently, the NHC has made further arrangements to mobilize senior citizens to get vaccination shots. 

First, we will see that local governments fulfill their responsibilities. Local governments must fully recognize the significance and urgency of the need for the elderly to get vaccinated. The actual situation of the senior population within their jurisdictions should be checked proactively so that further arrangements for their vaccination can be implemented and their safety can be ensured.

Second, we will give full play to the role of departments responsible for the welfare of the elderly people. To further increase the vaccination coverage rate of the elderly group, the office of the China National Committee on Aging has specifically issued a notice in advance on better promoting the vaccination among the elderly group. The notice has guided local governments to give full play to the role of social organizations related to the work for the elderly group and encouraged all localities to work together to ensure the safe and convenient conditions of the vaccination for the elderly. 

Third, we will intensify our efforts on publicity and mobilization. In combination with the China Prophylactic Vaccination Day activities on April 25 this year, we guided all localities to adjust measures in accordance with their specific local conditions to carry out further publicity on COVID-19 vaccination to encourage more people to get vaccinated. In addition, various other platforms, including radio, television, newspapers, open letters from the government and communities, and new media and We-media, were also used to promote vaccination in the communities, rural areas, and nursing homes.

Getting vaccinated and personal protection measures are effective means for COVID-19 prevention and control. Therefore, I also hope that our media friends will support and carry out more publicity activities about the popularization of vaccination. We will further increase the vaccination coverage rate of key groups and senior citizens with our joint efforts. In this way, we will offer more support to the epidemic prevention and control efforts. Thank you.

Liang Wannian:

Let me answer the second question. The epidemic strain of the outbreaks in Beijing and Shanghai is the Omicron variant. Both cities are super-large, each with a population of 20 million or more. The Omicron variant has the characteristics of rapid spread and strong concealment. For these megacities, this has increased a lot of difficulties in fighting COVID-19 outbreaks. And this has put forward higher demands in terms of organization and implementation and other aspects such as related nucleic acid testing capabilities and medical treatment capabilities. Therefore, it is a test of these megacities' governance systems and governance capacity to a certain extent.

Speaking from the perspective of the epidemic situation experienced in Shanghai and that Beijing is also fighting the sporadic COVID-19 epidemic, I think there are a few points that can be enlightening. First, Omicron spreads too fast and is too concealed, so we must improve the previous approaches to fight the original strain of the novel coronavirus and its Alpha, Beta, and Delta variants. The general rule is to move fast. The virus spreads quickly, so the speed of our moves, and the intensity and speed of our work, have to be faster and race against time to fight this virus. This is a significant change.

Second, we still have to build our confidence. Some cities in China, such as Shenzhen in Guangdong province, Changchun in Jilin province, Tianjin, etc., have all experienced the outbreak of the Omicron. The practice has proved that we can effectively control the spread of the epidemic by adopting effective strategies and tactics to achieve dynamic zero-COVID, so we must firmly establish this confidence. We have the ability, the foundation, and the conditions to defeat the epidemic and spread caused by the Omicron. As you can see, significant progress has been made in both Shanghai and Beijing.

Third, we must consider that the most vulnerable groups of this variant are the elderly and those with underlying diseases. The most effective means of protection is vaccination. The population of these two cities is also relatively old, and the proportion of the elderly population is higher than the national average. Therefore, strengthening the vaccination of the elderly and effectively increasing the rate of whole process vaccination and the vaccination rate for the booster shot is an effective means to protect their health, which must be strengthened. At the same time, it should be emphasized that in response to the outbreak of the Omicron, we must go all out to implement the policy of ensuring that all those in need are tested, isolated, hospitalized, or treated. We have formed this experience since the fight against the Wuhan epidemic in 2020. As long as the policy is fulfilled, the transmission chain of the epidemic can be quickly and effectively cut off, the people's health can be effectively protected, and medical treatment can be effectively executed.

Last but not least, the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic is an all-out people's war. It is also a systemic process that needs strong synergies among governments, departments, every individual, and the whole society. The efforts to fight the pandemic in Shanghai and Beijing need to mobilize the entire society under the guidance of a systemic philosophy to ensure that local authorities, relevant departments, employers, and individuals fulfill their responsibilities. I think we will win the anti-pandemic war, as we are waging a people's war against it in a swifter response and a more scientific and efficient manner. Thank you. 

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Hong Kong Ta Kung Wen Wei Media Group:

The current pandemic prevention and control measures have caused some inconvenience in production and people's life. Some believe that the "dynamic zero-COVID" approach has slowed China's economic growth. What do you think will be the impact on the economy of this approach? Thank you. 

Liang Wannian:

Thank you for your question. First, we need to clarify that the ultimate purpose of the dynamic zero-COVID approach is to make the utmost efforts to ensure people's health and protect their lives while sustaining social and economic development and ensuring normal production and daily life. The approach can be coordinated with economic development, and normal production and life. They are not contradictory. We have been implementing the general principle of the dynamic zero-COVID policy with a series of measures, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will affect economic growth or normal production and life. The reason lies in that the pandemic containment and economic development can be coordinated. They are both the primary objectives of the dynamic zero-COVID approach. There are also three subgoals that the policy aims to achieve: First, it aims to safeguard people's health and lives. Second, it aims to ensure economic development to protect the economy from the impact of the virus. Third, it aims to ensure people's normal work and life. As such, they are not contradictory. 

We need to understand that it is the pandemic and the virus dragging down the economy. The pandemic impacts the economy of all countries in the world, which have been doing their best to minimize the impacts of the virus and pandemic with various policies and measures adopted in line with their own guiding principles. However, the differences in anti-epidemic philosophies, guiding principles, policies and measures, coupled with factors such as the response speed and implementation effectiveness, lead to different outcomes and efficiency of the pandemic containment efforts. It should be admitted that some of the measures adopted to fight the virus will cause temporary inconvenience in daily life and affect social and economic activities temporarily. But the targeted way is the priority in the general principle of the dynamic zero-COVID approach, which aims to synergize pandemic containment, economic development, and normal production and life in a targeted and balanced manner. In this regard, different areas need to consider their respective pandemic situation and local social and economic situation to make the approach work well and thereby effectively balance the relationship between pandemic containment and economic development, as well as people's normal work and life.

The last thing I want to say is how to understand the balance? The balancing process is a dynamic process guided by China's general concept and policy guidelines against the virus. So, we should understand the balance between COVID-19 prevention and control and economic and social development from a macro, collective and dynamic perspective. It is about dealing with the relationship between short-term and long-term considerations, between part and whole, and between individuals and groups. Specifically, while implementing specific strategies and measures, we may have inconvenienced parts of areas and people in the short term and made the economy of parts of areas suffer for a short time. Still, we have ensured the normal production and life of the broadest areas and people. I think it is cost-effective, also a balance. The Chinese government has been putting the goal of a well-balanced relationship between COVID-19 prevention and control and economic and social development as a priority. China has been striving to explore the approaches of balance and make efforts to do well in the balance, facing different epidemic situations and regions.

Thank you.

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Red Star News:

The NHC recently said that China's anti-epidemic work has entered the fourth stage -- the stage of all-round comprehensive epidemic prevention and control in a scientific and targeted manner following the dynamic zero-COVID approach. When did China enter this stage? Why the need to adjust? Thank you.

Li Bin:

Thank you for your question and attention on China's epidemic prevention and control stages. During more than two years of China's anti-epidemic work, we have optimized and adjusted prevention and control measures and diagnosis and treatment schemes depending on the epidemic situation. We have always followed the people-centered development philosophy in fighting against the epidemic. China's epidemic prevention and control work has included four stages: first, the emergency containment stage of the epidemic outbreak. We achieved a decisive result in fighting the virus in Wuhan city and Hubei province in about three months, and successfully contained the spread of the virus in China. Second is the exploration stage of regular epidemic prevention and control. China has mainly used nucleic acid testing as a major way to strengthen prevention, and strived to control an epidemic situation within two or three incubation periods. The third is the stage of targeted prevention and control following the dynamic zero-COVID approach across the whole chain. We have focused on early detection and meticulous and fundamental measures, and grasped the "golden 24 hours" after detecting positive cases to contain the epidemic within the first incubation period. Currently, China's anti-epidemic work has entered the stage of all-round comprehensive epidemic prevention and control in a scientific and targeted manner following the dynamic zero-COVID approach.

The Omicron variant is highly infectious, highly transmissible, difficult to detect, and can cause a larger proportion of asymptomatic infections. We summarize experiences from different regions and continue to improve COVID-19 response measures. As for COVID-19 prevention and control measures, we make clear our main focuses, set priorities for these measures, and put community-level prevention and control in a prominent position. We control the population at risk within the particular region at the earliest time. Infected patients will all be treated, and close contacts will all be isolated. We also isolate people who are secondary close contacts of COVID-19 cases in designated places as possible as we can, striving to cut off the transmission routes in the shortest time. We work to advance antigen tests and nucleic acid tests in order to detect infected cases as early as possible. Public security, industry and information technology, and public health departments have worked in synergy to conduct epidemiological investigations, identify the scope of the population at risk, and take targeted prevention and control measures. As for the organization and management of disposal of COVID-19 cases, we work in a well-coordinated and efficient way and try to run faster than the virus. Based on the principle of centralized and overall planning, we work to ensure that all processes, including nucleic acid testing, epidemiological investigation, isolation, transferring, and community-level prevention and control can be operated in a well-coordinated manner, striving to shorten the possible time from positive screening test to final transfer. We focus on high-risk regions and mobilize our best efforts to secure victory in key regions so that the transmission of the virus can be curbed as quickly as possible. 

In general, no matter how the epidemic situation goes, we will always put people and their lives first and take prudent efforts to ensure the COVID-19 response measures are implemented. Thanks.

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ITV News:

Mr. Liang Wannian, you mentioned some cities have already battled some Omicron outbreaks. In those cities, it has taken generally far less than it has taken in Shanghai, where they're entering their second month of lockdown. The numbers are still rising. Do you know why that is? Why has the situation become so bad in Shanghai? You did mention there is a high elderly population there. Can I also ask if China has any plans to roll out mRNA vaccines? Thank you. 

Li Bin:

Your questions cover two aspects. The first one will go to Mr. Liang, and the second one on mRNA vaccines will go to Mr. Lei.

Liang Wannian:

Thank you. Shanghai is now still at a critical stage to control the epidemic. Also, as we see, data from the reported cases show a downturn in the curve. It is gradually decreasing on a high base. All these demonstrate that our series of efforts and strategies to respond to COVID-19 are taking effect and effectively curbing the surge of cases. The situation shows signs of improvement. However, with about 10,000 new COVID-19 cases reported every day in Shanghai, the situation remains grim and complex.

Shanghai and Beijing are megacities with a large population base, high population density, and high population mobility, which pose significant difficulties for prevention and control. For such a large population, nearly 25 million people in Shanghai, we need systematic, considerate, and extensive allocation of resources, mobilization, and coordination to effectively organize a nucleic acid test and implement a specific anti-epidemic measure. It is a systematic project involving the municipal government, districts, and specific sub-districts and residents' committees. It is one of the difficulties. It cannot be done quickly and well like some other cities and areas do.

Second, it requires us to have a strong capacity against the virus. Like the frequently discussed time and space in academic fields, it requires different capacity levels against the virus in our system, nucleic acid testing capacity for example. For a city with 1 million people and one with 25 million, it will take longer in the case of insufficient capacity but may take merely 24 hours when there is sufficient capacity. So, that is another challenge.

Moreover, city operation must be ensured in the anti-epidemic fight. The supply of water, electricity, coal, and gas and public security needed in the running of the economy and people's everyday lives must be ensured. For example, couriers, transportation, medical staff and services, community organizers, and volunteers are necessary, so there has been a certain level of mobility. Given the extensive virus spread in communities in Shanghai, such population mobility is bound to bring greater risks to prevention and control.

When the virus is quickly spreading in such a big city, it requires adequate preparations and resources to ensure the policy of ensuring that all those in need are tested, quarantined, treated, or restricted was implemented. If no adequate preparations and resources like hospital beds, infected cases, confirmed cases, close contacts, and secondary close contacts would be stranded in communities, resulting in virus spread in families and communities. It is also a challenge for Shanghai to ensure the policy of ensuring that all those in need are tested, quarantined, treated, or restricted was implemented effectively. Still, we are pleased to see that Shanghai is heading in the right direction, with remarkable progress in medical treatment and sufficient beds in makeshift hospitals. It took some time to get there. Shanghai went through a difficult period some time ago, which has to do with many aspects, including the characteristics of the city, the rapid spread of the virus, the level of our overall resources, and the mobility of the people.

Finally, Shanghai has a high population density. Since the outbreak in the city, the epidemic has spread widely in the community. Compared with single or regional cluster cases, the prevention and control measures for widespread community transmission have more difficulties. Therefore, it might take longer, and measures such as nucleic acid testing, antigen testing, and screening strategies may be needed more frequently.

Thank you.

Lei Zhenglong:

Regarding mRNA vaccines, China has arranged several research and development tasks. Some with faster timelines are conducting phase III clinical trials abroad, and some are in the process of review and approval. For details, please consult the relevant departments. Thank you.

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Beijing Daily:

Under the principle of dynamic zero-COVID, how to make epidemic prevention policies more conducive to the resumption of work and production and minimize the impact on ordinary people? How to ensure efficiency and humanization and better promote the smooth implementation of dynamic zero-COVID? Thank you.

Lei Zhenglong:

Thank you for your questions. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have firmly implemented the decisions and deployments of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, actively guided local governments to strengthen scientific and targeted prevention and control measures, and unswervingly adhered to the overall strategy of preventing imported cases and domestic resurgences and the general policy of dynamic zero-COVID. As we deepen the understanding of COVID-19, our prevention and control policies and measures have been constantly adjusted and improved in accordance with the changing epidemic situation and the actual needs of the prevention and control work to coordinate better the epidemic prevention and control with social and economic development.  

First, we have continued to improve the scientific and precise epidemic prevention and control level. According to the epidemic prevention and control situation, we have kept improving the epidemic prevention and control plan. After the outbreak, we have strived to find close contacts and sub-close contacts as soon as possible, shorten the time for infected persons and close contacts to linger in communities, and reduce the spread of the epidemic. Medium- and high-risk areas have been demarcated in a scientific method, and a multi-level, category-specific, and targeted approach has been adopted in different areas. In community prevention and control, lockdown area, control area, and prevention area have been precisely classified.

Second, we have done our best to minimize the negative effects of the pandemic on the public. We not only fought the virus with strict and effective control measures but also provided considerate services, making every effort to meet people's demands for medical treatment. We gathered information on patients needing special treatment in lockdown and control areas. We precisely synergized communities with designated hospitals, ensuring that residents can leave the community to see a doctor. To guarantee necessary supplies, we coordinated our efforts to improve the all-level delivery system and enhanced the allocation of daily supplies. We pooled strength from communities' social organizations, committees of property owners, real property management, and service enterprises as well as volunteers to collect information on each household's needs, place joint purchase orders and deliver necessities, providing residents with sufficient supplies, considerate services, and warm care.

Third, we promoted the resumption of work and production in an orderly manner. To ensure smooth traffic and logistics, localities and relevant departments adopted closed-loop management, which requires drivers and conductors to regularly conduct health monitoring and take a nucleic acid test. We also improved our pandemic response measures for those on the road. A large number of checkpoints for the nucleic acid test have been installed to ensure drivers can conveniently take tests and go and could be traced at any time. Meanwhile, we coordinated pandemic response with the transportation of key materials and agricultural production. Precise pandemic response measures have been proposed for various agricultural scenarios so as to guarantee a smooth production and a stable supply of agricultural products. Thank you. 

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Cover News:

Based on the fact that the Omicron variant is much harder to detect and more contagious than the original strain, some people argue that it is not easy to realize early quarantine, thus making dynamic zero-COVID approach almost equivalent to a citywide closed-off management and mass nucleic acid test. What's your view? How to contain the spread of the virus as early as possible without conducting mass nucleic acid tests or imposing a citywide lockdown? Thank you.

Liang Wannian:

Thanks for your question. First of all, I want to make it clear that even though the Omicron variant is highly contagious, hard to detect, and results in many asymptomatic cases, it doesn't mean that we can't realize early detection early reporting, early quarantine, and early treatment. If the "four earlies" principle is conscientiously observed, we don't have to launch a mass nucleic acid test or put a whole city under lockdown. So, my point is that fighting Omicron doesn't necessarily imply a citywide mass nucleic acid test or citywide closed-off management.

What kind of test strategy shall we adopt? At present, we advocate a joint test strategy featuring conducting nucleic acid tests and antigen self-test based on the development of the pandemic. Generally speaking, the earlier the transmission is detected, the easier it is to figure out its chains. That's to say, we can more precisely find out how the cases are infected, who their contacts are, and people in which areas might be affected, thus doing a better job in terms of the "four earlies." We can then conduct the nucleic acid test and antigen self-test within a targeted area instead of imposing an extensive lockdown. This is very important. 

Can we effectively control the pandemic without city-wide nucleic acid testing and lockdown? I would say it's possible as long as we can ensure "early detection, reporting, quarantine and treatment." While to guarantee the "four earlies," it requires a set of concepts, capacities, and mechanisms. Therefore, in response to the pandemic, I believe that all places across the country should make good preparations. The monitoring capacity, discovery and reporting capacity, quick reaction capacity, the participation of multiple departments and individuals, the alerts, and degree of emphasis on diseases are highly relevant to achieving the "four earlies."

On the other hand, if we fail to achieve the "four earlies" and discover the cases late, in particular, for some infected patients, if we can't figure out where they are from, how many people have been exposed to, and the spread range. The basic reproduction number of Omicron variant will hit 9.5 with its fast transmission speed. In addition, the median incubation period is three days, compared with the original strain of 5.4 days and the Delta variant of four days. Its time interval of intergenerational transmission is 2.83 days. Under the circumstance of without knowing its source of infection, the spread range, and close contacts of infected patients, given the variant's fast transmission speed, we must expand the range of control, enhance nucleic acid testing, strengthen relevant prevention and control measures, to keep the pandemic under control. I believe it is also the need for pandemic prevention and control.

Generally speaking, China has already been equipped with the technologies and approaches to achieve the "four earlies." For example, our nucleic acid testing technology and the extensively used COVID-19 antigen self-testing kits. The effective combination of nucleic acid testing and antigen self-testing could help to discover the potentially infected people as soon as possible across the places where there are COVID-19 outbreaks and resurgences. Moreover, we have made a series of regulations and requirements in the law. In addition, we have established a set of the comprehensive monitoring system, which has further enhanced our monitoring capacity. More importantly, we have accumulated abundant experience battling the coronavirus over the past two years. In terms of the emergency system, treatment system, people's participation in prevention and control, collaboration among departments, and the joint prevention and control mechanism, we have formed basic experience to curb the fast-spreading virus with fast response-ability, especially regarding the Omicron variant. As long as we can use those resources, we will achieve the "four earlies" and win the battle against COVID-19 at a minimum cost. Thank you.

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China Daily: 

The difficulties of getting medical services in some lockdown areas have become a problem recently. I would like to know how to ensure the smooth operation of both pandemic control and medical services at the same time? Thank you.

Li Bin:

Thank you for your question. Coordinating relations between the pandemic prevention and control and regular medical services and ensuring people's needs for services are crucial to protect people's health and well-being. During the pandemic prevention and control process, it has always been our most concerning issue to maintain medical treatment in good order to deliver consistent medical services for the public. 

Currently, the COVID-19 epidemic features a combination of sporadic cases in a few places and cluster outbreaks in some parts across the country. The prevention and control situation remains grim. Some areas were put under closed-off management, affecting people's medical treatment. Given this problem, the NHC has put forward precise requirements, made comprehensive arrangements, and provided guidelines for specific local situations. Local authorities have also taken adequate measures to do everything possible to ensure the public's medical needs. To solve this problem, we have mainly focused on the four points:

First, we must ensure the timely treatment of acute and critical patients. According to the deployment of the NHC, all localities are required to designate hospitals for those whose health codes turn "yellow" and open "cloud clinics." For the critically ill, buffer zones for emergency treatment, first-aid centers, operating rooms, and wards should be put into use in a timely manner when their nucleic acid test results are yet unknown. Medics should strictly implement the first consultation responsibility system and ensure the treatment of acute and critical patients, offer timely and effective treatment while protecting themselves, and should not refuse patients at any excuse to delay the treatment.

Second, we must meet the medical needs of special groups. Local epidemic prevention and control departments should conduct survey and develop a clear picture of the situation of patients with demand for hemodialysis, tumor radiotherapy or chemotherapy, as well as pregnant women and newborns in areas under closed-off management, so as to better provide continuous medical services. Community-level health care institutions should provide medical services for patients with chronic diseases by issuing long-term prescriptions and other means.

Third, we must guarantee access to essential medical services in areas with the resurgence of COVID-19. During the epidemic prevention and control period, we have raised the level of coordination, strengthened the inter-department coordination, and set up emergency helplines such as 120 and convenient service channels to ensure that the public can "connect to the emergency center and receive timely treatment." The closed-off management areas and restrictive control areas should constantly improve the operation mechanism of medical service management under the emergency state. Expert teams providing consultation and evaluation to needy people should be arranged. For those who need to go out for medical treatment, point-to-point transportation, and closed-loop management should be arranged to ensure residents in medical demand can leave the community and get into the hospital.

Fourth, we have coordinated epidemic prevention and control and medical services within medical institutions. The pandemic monitoring and early warning efforts in medical institutions have been further strengthened, and the procedures for handling public health emergencies have been improved. The emergency plan is immediately activated once confirmed cases are identified. While responding to emergencies timely and effectively, it is necessary to report to the local disease prevention and control departments to coordinate pandemic prevention and control in hospitals and society. The medical institutions where cases are identified cannot be shut down due to dealing with the pandemic. After taking closed-off management and restrictive control measures, the emergency response mechanism should be initiated swiftly to make sure that the key departments, including emergency, dialysis, operation, intensive care unit, and delivery, can continue to function. We must ensure critical patients can get timely treatment to minimize the impact of epidemic response on normal medical services in medical institutions. Thank you.

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The Straits Times: 

I have two questions. First, China emphasizes that the costs and benefits of the dynamic zero-COVID approach should be calculated at the macro level. What is the tipping point where the costs exceed the benefits? What exactly are the costs? Second, China has taken the lead in recovering from the pandemic and has been looking for new ways to cope with the constantly mutating novel coronavirus. What has China done in recent years to intensify the capacity building of its medical system? Thank you. 

Liang Wannian:  

Thank you for your question. When calculating the costs and benefits of fighting against COVID-19, we should first make clear the local-overall relationship and short-term and long-term relationship and take a long, comprehensive, holistic and systematic perspective. Second, evaluating the costs and benefits of COVID-19 response involves more than economic or monetary factors. Life is priceless and cannot be measured with money. Therefore, to analyze the costs and benefits, we need to take a systematic, big-picture, holistic, and dynamic view to consider both the economy and people's livelihoods.

Theoretically, the strategies and measures adopted to fight the epidemic will definitely generate direct costs — such as significant labor, material and financial resources invested in vaccination, temporary treatment centers construction, and nucleic acid testing. At the same time, there will also be some indirect costs. For example, the pandemic response will restrict the mobility of some people in some local areas, which may impact the economy. In addition, there will be intangible costs, such as anxiety and other psychological problems incurred in people quarantined at home in the closed-off management areas and restrictive control areas.

In terms of benefits, we should also follow a dynamic and multi-layered approach and consider both direct and indirect benefits and even invisible benefits. China's policy of preventing imported cases and domestic resurgences and the dynamic zero-COVID approach have effectively prevented the pandemic's large-scale spread and outbreaks, thus protecting the health and safety of the people to the maximum. China has effectively avoided a loss in the per capita life expectancy and managed to ensure order in the life and work of the people and the economy of as many regions as possible. These are all direct benefits. Just as Mr. Li mentioned a moment ago, in 2020, China was the world's only major economy to achieve growth. In 2021, China's GDP grew 8.1% year-on-year, with a two-year average of 5.1%, ranking among the highest compared with the world's other major economies. In the first quarter of this year, our GDP expanded by 4.8% year-on-year. These statistics show that the dynamic zero-COVID approach suits China's conditions and effectively coordinates pandemic control with social and economic development.

Given the uncertainties brought about by the pandemic, the dynamic zero-COVID approach and the concrete anti-pandemic measures served as insurance for the 1.4 billion Chinese people against pandemic fluctuations and virus variants. The cost of the insurance is to sacrifice economic gains of a small number of people to ensure the welfare of the whole society at its most. The dynamic zero-COVID approach has also promoted the development of China's digital economy. For example, the telemedicine and big data technologies used in pandemic control have boosted the digital economy, firmly ensured the people's wellbeing, and protected the vulnerable. Meanwhile, through carrying out joint prevention and control and improving the governance capacities of communities, we have promoted the effective connection and coordination among departments of public services, between government and non-government entities, and between government administrations and the community governance services in their direct charge. I think these are all indirect or invisible benefits of the dynamic zero-COVID approach.

Medical treatment has always been a priority in China's pandemic control efforts. Attaching great importance to the work, the Chinese government has adopted a series of measures to ensure that all suspected and confirmed cases could be hospitalized and treated. Efforts mainly focused on the following aspects, especially after the appearance of Omicron.

First, we have improved the establishment and management of designated hospitals. We guided local authorities to set hospitals with strongly integrated capacities, high-quality medical treatment, and outstanding epidemic prevention and control techniques as designated hospitals to hospitalize patients. At the same time, clear requirements have been put forward for the number of beds in designated hospitals in cities with different populations. For example, in principle, in each of the cities above the prefectural level with 1 to 5 million permanent urban residents, the total number of beds in designated hospitals should not be less than 500. In megacities with 5 to 10 million permanent urban residents, the total number should not be less than 1,000. And in megacities with more than 10 million permanent urban residents, the total number should not be less than 1,500. Among them, the number of beds for severe cases shall not be less than 10% of the total number of designated beds. Besides, local authorities must set up a certain number of back-up designated hospitals to ensure that they can be vacated and put into use within 24 hours when needed.

Second, we have improved the establishment and management of makeshift hospitals. A hierarchical approach to diagnosis and treatment has been adopted. And a number of makeshift hospitals have been built and remodeled to ensure that they can be put into use within two days when necessary so that all those in need are hospitalized or treated. As of April 25, nearly 400 makeshift hospitals have been built or are under construction in China, with a total of more than 560,000 beds. In addition, there are clear requirements for the ratio of doctors to nurses and doctors to beds in makeshift hospitals.

Third, we have taken practical measures to promote the utilization of medical resources. We have guided local authorities to transfer COVID-19 patients whose symptoms meet specific conditions to makeshift and designated hospitals, maximizing the use of hospital beds. At the same time, local authorities are also required to strengthen epidemic prevention and control while ensuring daily medical service.

In addition, during this period of time, we have been raising the capacity for ICU treatment by providing necessary treatment facilities and equipment, strengthening the training of medical staff, revising and improving diagnosis and treatment standards in a timely manner, widely adopting traditional Chinese medicine, strengthening emergency treatment plans, training and exercise, and strengthening the reserve of emergency medical treatment supplies.

Thank you.

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Shou Xiaoli:

The last question, please.

Zhinews of Shenzhen Satellite TV:

We have noticed that according to the World Health Organization (WHO) recently, the COVID-19 pandemic remains a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). It suggests countries take response measures at any time against a possible new round of COVID-19 breakout in autumn. What targeted epidemic prevention measures will China take accordingly? Thank you.

Lei Zhenglong:

Thank you for your question. We have noticed that in the WHO statement issued on April 13 on the eleventh meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee, it has determined that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to constitute a PHEIC. China has been paying close attention to the global pandemic situation and adjustment and changes in response strategies and measures of the WHO and various countries to further improve its prevention and control policies and measures. Autumn and winter are the seasons with a high incidence of respiratory infectious diseases. Since 2020, based on the national situation in COVID-19 prevention and control and the mutation of the virus, we have guided local authorities to improve the monitoring and early warning mechanism, strengthen epidemic risk assessment, and further implement the measures of early detection, reporting, quarantine and treatment. We have strengthened epidemic prevention and control at key links and carried out prevention and control of the coronavirus epidemic and other respiratory infectious diseases in a coordinated way, to effectively respond to the epidemic in autumn and winter. 

This year, we will closely keep track of the COVID-19 pandemic situation and the mutation of the virus across the world. Considering that and based on the changes in the epidemic prevention and control situation in China, we will further increase the guidance for local authorities to prepare for the epidemic response in autumn and winter. Thank you.

Shou Xiaoli:

Thank you to all speakers and friends from the media. Today's briefing is now concluded. Goodbye.

Translated and edited by Zhou Jing, Huang Shan, Gong Yingchun, Zhang Junmian, Cui Can, Wang Wei, Yan Xiaoqing, Li Xiao, Li Huiru, Qin Qi, Wang Yiming, Zhang Tingting, Xu Xiaoxuan, Yuan Fang, Wang Yanfang, Xu Kailin, Liu Sitong, Chen Xia, Zhang Rui, He Shan, Liu Jianing, Wang Qian, Zhu Bochen, Dong Qingpei, Yang Xi, Zhang Jiaqi, Zhang Lulu, and Jay Birbeck. In case of any discrepancy between the English and Chinese texts, the Chinese version is deemed to prevail.

/5    Li Bin

/5    Lei Zhenglong

/5    Liang Wannian

/5    Group photo

/5    Shou Xiaoli

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